Bill & Arnie
'Together, Arnie and I form some mythical beast. We flew. I had the wings, but it was something about the strength of his legs that got us off the ground. This adventure we were having in the art world could fall apart, but we would still be together.'
– Bill T. Jones, Last Night on Earth
The choreographic vocabulary of the duets sprang from contact improvisation, a technique with which both dancers were intimately familiar. Jones and Zane had studied with Lois Welk, and with her had been part of the collective American Dance Asylum in Binghamton. Together they had spent years incessantly creating, developing, practicing and analyzing new works, in an intellectually stimulating environment, influenced by experimental filmmakers such as Michael Snow, Stan Brackage, as well as by choreographer Richard Bull.
However, in the duets, the language of contact improvisation which relies on the precision of jumps, holds, tumbles, falls and the ability to anticipate and support the actions of others, became increasingly refined, and submitted to a formal rigor that grows more and more distant from the esthetics and practices of the previous decade. Their experimentation with narrative constructions and a particular use of space and props soon became identifiable as elements of their new theatrical signature.
Their athleticism mixed with irony mischievously placed on repetition, accumulation, and speed, the precarious balances interrupted by the tenderness of their touching, and kissing. Their secret whisperings at the periphery of the stage, as only plotters of thrilling lives can do, will forever belong to the collective memory of the 1980s. The impact the two charismatic performers and lovers had on audiences at the time, would transform the partnering of male dancers from that point onward. Even as the subversive aspect of a same-sex couple dancing has partially faded, the intricacy of the choreography remains, and serves as a sharp tool revealing the individual characteristics of the new dancers who learn and perform the duets.